EU foreign ministers met Arab League secretary general Nabil al-Arabi over lunch in Brussels
Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi arrives at EU headquarters in Brussels. Europe and the United States tightened economic sanctions on Syria, ramping up international pressure as the UN said more than 4,000 people had died in a crackdown on dissidents. © Georges Gobet - AFP
EU foreign ministers met Arab League secretary general Nabil al-Arabi over lunch in Brussels
Laurent Thomet, AFP
Last updated: December 2, 2011

EU and US impose new Syria sanctions

The UN Human Rights Council on Friday slammed "gross violations" in Syria following evidence security forces murdered and tortured dissidents including children, as five more people reportedly died.

Council members in Geneva overwhelmingly passed a resolution "strongly condemning the continued widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities" and referred a report on the abuses to UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon.

There were 37 yes votes and six absentions, while four countries -- Russia, Cuba, Ecuador and China -- voted against.

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms the ongoing slaughter, arbitrary arrest and torture of peaceful protesters," US ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe said earlier at the council's third emergency meeting to discuss Syria since the repression began in March.

A UN-appointed investigative panel found widespread killings and abuse of dissidents since the start of the crackdown, which has claimed more than 4,000 lives, according to the United Nations.

"November was the deadliest month so far with 56 children killed," said the head of the panel, citing "reliable sources."

"To date, 307 children were killed by state forces," Paulo Pinheiro told the Geneva-based body.

The panel said Syrian security forces committed crimes against humanity, including the killing and torture of children, after orders from the top of the Bashar al-Assad regime.

It interviewed 223 victims and witnesses, among them defectors from Assad's security forces who told of shoot-to-kill orders to crush demonstrators and cases of children being tortured to death.

Also Friday, activists said security forces killed at least five more people, and tens of thousands marched in protests across Syria calling for Turkey to create a buffer zone to protect civilians.

The largest protests were held in central Homs province and the northern town of Hama, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The demonstrations came a day after mutinous soldiers attacked a Syrian air force intelligence base in Idlib, killing eight people, according to the Observatory.

And another two people were killed by random gunfire in Homs province, the Observatory said in a statement received in Nicosia.

Witnessses and a medical official said Syrian troops also fired across the border into Lebanon, wounding a woman and two men.

Meanwhile US Vice President Joe Biden urged Assad to quit, adding to growing global pressure on the regime over its crackdown on dissidents.

"The Syrian regime must end its brutality against its own people, and President Assad must step down so a peaceful transition that respects the will of the people can take place," Biden told the Hurriyet daily in an interview published Friday.

Biden called for a peaceful transition in Syria, saying: "Lasting stability can come when there is a government that listens to its people and addresses their needs, rather than turning their guns on them."

The United States and its Western allies are leading a campaign to isolate Assad over the bloody crackdown.

European Union chair Poland told the UN rights council that those guilty of abuses "must be held to account, in particular those who committed crimes that may warrant the attention of the International Criminal Court."

However Russian ambassador Valery Loshchinin said the global community had been given a "one-sided" report of events in Syria.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay added her voice to widespread fears that the crackdown has brought the country to the brink of civil war.

"The Syrian authorities' continual ruthless repression, if not stopped now, can drive the country into a fully fledged civil war," she said.

The European Union expanded its sanctions list against Syria to include the finance and economy ministers, state-owned oil companies and two media organisations.

Finance Minister Mohammad al-Jleilati and Economy Minister Mohammad Nidal al-Shaar were among 12 regime officials added to a blacklist of Syrians hit by asset freezes and bans on traveling to the 27-nation EU.

General Fahid al-Jassim, the head of the military, led a list of nine military officials punished on charges of involvement in violence against protesters in the Homs region.

The EU now has sanctions on around 120 Syrian individuals and companies and is already enforcing an arms embargo and a ban on imports of Syrian crude oil.

Syria's only privately owned political newspaper, Al-Watan, was placed on the list along with Cham Press TV channel, both accused by the EU of participating in "campaigns to spread disinformation and incite violence against demonstrators."

Asset freezes were imposed on the state-owned Syria Trading Oil Company (Sytrol) and the General Petroleum Corporation (GPC), a government-run oil firm.

Al-Furat Petroleum Company, a joint venture 50 percent owned by GPC, is also on the list.

Royal Dutch Shell, a partner of Al-Furat, said in London it would cease operations in Syria in line with the EU sanctions.

However French oil giant Total said it would continue its activities in Syria, saying its "legal situation is different from Shell's."

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